The quest for B.C.’s oldest soccer championship is under way.
The Royal Cup, which turns 102 this season, features men’s teams from up and down the valley competing for Okanagan soccer supremacy.
Competition for the prestigious silver trophy began this past Sunday with the opening round of games in Kelowna. Five more rounds will follow, culminating with the championship match Sept. 13 at the Mission Sportsfields.
With a rich history behind it, Matt Arruda of the defending champion Alves Bros. says Division 1 teams, in particular, take the annual Royal Cup competition quite seriously.
“It’s a very big, prestigious honour, obviously the cup’s been around for more than 100 years,” said Arruda, a member of the defending champion Alves Bros., (formerly Brandt’s).
“It’s been pared down to Okanagan teams over the years, but in the past there were teams from all over Western Canada playing for it, so that makes is pretty special.
“Guys in the lower levels maybe don’t take it as seriously,” added Arruda, “but for us (Div.1 teams) we show up for all those Royal Cup games and want to win. We’ve won two years in a row, so we’re quite keen to try and make it a third.”
Alves Bros. is one of six teams which will also compete this season in the first division of the Kelowna Men’s Soccer League.
Alves is joined by Ecora, who won both the league and playoff titles last year, as well as Modern Furniture Pikeys, Iris Optometry, Mario’s Towing and Carleton Athletic FC.
While winning the Royal Cup is one thing, capturing the triple crown in Kelowna men’s soccer is a rare feat all its own.
“It’s very hard to win two, let alone three titles in one year,” said KMSL president Ian Watson. “It’s a long, demanding season, you have to play well every week to win the Royal Cup, and you have to peak at the right time to win our two league titles. It’s very competitive among our top teams.”
KMSL Division 1 is down from nine clubs last season, but overall Watson said the league is maintaining some decent numbers with nearly 1,000 players registered.
There are 42 teams entered in five categories—Div. 1., Div. 2, Div. 3 A and B, and over 35.
Watson said where the challenge comes in is keeping young players engaged in the game so they will continue playing in Kelowna when their minor days are over.
“Where we have trouble in that only so many kids are choosing to come and play in our league when they graduate from minor soccer,” said Watson. “Those that don’t go off to university will often just give up the game. We want them to know our league is a good option.”
To address those needs and some of the other issues facing soccer in Kelowna, the Okanagan Soccer Alliance was formed this spring—a collaborative effort between the Kelowna men’s and women’s leagues, and the Central Okaganan Youth Soccer Association.
At the top of the list, the OSA hopes to address the shortage of soccer pitches and facilities in the Central Okanagan.
“The (alliance) is hoping to work with the city and university in getting more outdoor and indoor facilities,” said Watson. “With close to 10,000 players in the area, we just don’t have enough space for everyone to play. It’s just a natural by-product of the growth of Kelowna.
“The city does a great job, we already have the best fields in B.C. We just need more of them.”